Racism row: lawyer reveals black footballers' association talks

A leading human rights barrister has said talks over a separate black footballers' association have begun.

Peter Herbert, who chairs the Society of Black Lawyers and helped set up a Black Police Association, says the discussions are at a preliminary stage.

Herbert says the new organisation would provide a more "radical" and "vigorous" approach to combating racism.

Professional Footballers' Association chairman Clarke Carlisle warned a new group could have a divisive effect.

Herbert said players from various levels of the game, including the Premier League, were involved in discussions. The working title for the proposed body is the Black Players' Association.

He added that John Terry's abuse of Anton Ferdinand and Luis Suarez's abuse of Patrice Evra last season, along with the alleged racist abuse of England Under-21 player Danny Rose in Serbia, were a trigger for black players to come forward and attempt to form the group.

"People appear to have decided they have to do something more vigorously," Herbert said.

"What we are seeking to do for the individuals is to have that protection so they are not on their own or faced with a barrage of pressure from the media, from their clubs or the FA, but have the support of the whole community of the UK - and that includes the legal community."

But PFA chairman Carlisle said unity not separatism was needed.

"[A new body] has the potential to be divisive because when you establish a black players' union it would instantly define 'us and them' and that's something we really need to work against," the York City defender said.

Ferdinand joins Roberts' protest

"We don't need to separate the players when the whole focus and goal of anti-racism is to campaign for unity."

Carlisle also said he had spoken to Reading striker Jason Roberts about the issue after more than 30 players refused to wear T-shirts supporting the Kick It Out anti-racism campaign at the weekend following Roberts's remarks that some black players were unhappy with the organisation's progress.

However, Roberts said he was not part of the talks on a breakaway group, tweeting:  "I can confirm that I have not been involved in any talks over a separate black players' union."

Another player who opted not to wear the T-shirt was Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand - but Herbert refused to name any players involved.

"They have not come forward lightly," he said. "We are very aware it is not an easy task for anybody.

"At the moment we cannot say names but I think you will be well aware that [Ferdinand] is a person [who] has taken a stance."

Football Association chairman David Bernstein urged caution and said a breakaway organisation would not be the best way to deal with racism in the game.

"Fragmentation isn't in anyone's interest. Great passions are involved here. I hope sense prevails and people can work together," said Bernstein.

He also confirmed sanctions for players found guilty of racist abuse would be re-examined in light of the Terry case.

"It's on the agenda to look at it again. The FA received a certain, probably limited degree of criticism for its processes in the Terry thing. We will look at that.

"I think the tariffs will need looking at but, given the existing scenarios and given other punishments elsewhere, actually the commission got it pretty much right."

Herbert said he was angered by the way the FA dealt with Terry, describing the decision to find him guilty of making a racist comment while stating that he was not a racist as "unbelievable".

Kick It Out facts

  • Kick Racism Out Of Football began in 1993
  • It became the more wide ranging anti-discrimination body Kick It Out in 1997
  • Its first Kick It Out week of action was held in 2001
  • In season 2010-11 the organisation had an annual budget of £453,913
  • Of that, £330,000 came from the Football Association, the Premier League and the Professional Footballers' Association
  • It employs seven staff

"The FA describe that John Terry made a racist comment but [say he is] not a racist. That is an unbelievable application of logic and one, as a discrimination lawyer, you find quite incredible."

And he said he believed football authorities should be supporting any moves to combat racism: "The FA should not fear black players self-organising. They should embrace it."

Herbert added that any new group would seek to meet with the PFA to discuss matters on a regular basis.

And he said the new group could also tackle the under-representation of black managers in football.

"They are suffering systematic racism and the gross under-representation at managerial level of black players as coaches and managers is a scandal," he said.

Herbert also called for all players, regardless of race, to walk off the pitch if anyone suffered racist abuse.

"If there is a huge swell of racist chanting or abuse at a football match, the teams should come off. Not just black players, everyone should come off."